The Child Poverty Bill is intended to enshrine in law the Government's commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020; to define success in eradicating child poverty; and to create a framework to monitor progress at both a national and a local level. It appears to provide a mechanism for the progressive realisation of children's right to an adequate standard of living under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As such, we welcome the Bill as a human rights enhancing measure.
We welcome various specific aspects of the Bill, including:
- the use of targets, in this case relating to income, to bring about the realisation of a human right;
- placing the Government's commitment to tackle child poverty on a statutory footing;
- mechanisms for parliamentary accountability;
- the Government's positive engagement with guidance from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on using international human rights law as a framework for poverty reduction strategies;
- the establishment of the Child Poverty Commission; and
- the availability of judicial review in limited circumstances, for example where the Secretary of State refused to draw up a child poverty strategy or where the evidence is incontrovertible that the targets will be missed.
We recommend that the Bill should be amended to place the Secretary of State under a duty to implement the child poverty strategy, so that there is an additional mechanism for holding the Government to account by judicial review.
The income targets in the Bill will relate to children in "qualifying households". Detailed provision will be made in secondary legislation but the Government has provided sufficient information to show that children who live in communal accommodation or who live in accommodation without a postcode, such as Gypsy and Roma children, are unlikely to be encompassed by the definition of children in qualifying households. In our view, the tying of targets to qualifying households means that it is highly likely that the Bill will give rise to differential treatment in the enjoyment of Convention rights which requires justification if it is to be compatible with Article 14 of the European Convention. We are not persuaded by the justification provided by the Government - which rests on the costs and impracticality of surveying children who do not live in qualifying households - and we recommend the inclusion in the Bill of a target or targets which would apply to children not living in qualifying households.
We consider that the duties to consult children about the preparation of child poverty strategies are imprecise and recommend amendments to the Bill.